Cricket at the Olympics

Sport

Lord’s Cricket Ground is one of the icons of world sport and I was thrilled when it was selected as a venue for next year’s Olympics – what I didn’t realise is that it will be hosting archery.

I’m not for one minute knocking the sport; after all, it’s been contested at the summer games since 1900. I just wish that when the events kick off in August upon their return to British shores there was a cricket tournament to get excited about.

For many cricket is a five-day yawnfest where not much happens apart from an exaggerated rivalry every couple of years between England and Australia. Don’t worry – I’m not suggesting we bring a test series to the Olympics.

Introduced in 2003, Twenty20 is the newest form of the game and condenses a stereotypically drawn-out affair into a morning or evening’s entertainment. It has proven immensely popular at county level in the UK as it brings the electric atmosphere of a football or rugby match to the cricket oval.

The shortened game time encourages teams to score quickly meaning there are more big-hitting batsmen. Wickets can tumble as batting sides take more and more risks to up their total. While traditionalists may scowl at this extravagant game-play, they cannot argue that it’s failing to pull in the punters.

In 2004 the first T20 match to be staged at Lord’s, Middlesex v Surrey, drew a staggering 26,500 spectators. By contrast, the Barclays Premier League has eight teams with smaller average gates this season, despite the division being one of the best-supported in Europe.

The length of T20 tie is not much longer than a football or rugby fixture, while the ability to play matches under floodlights increases its feasibility as an Olympic Sport.

On the international stage there have been three World Cups in which 15 teams have participated. That might seem not globally-representative for the Olympics, but only 16 sides compete in the football tournament which has been running as long as archery!

While Team GB is bowled out on track and field (only four of our 47 medals in 2008 came in athletics) they could be striking gold on the Lord’s wicket. Let’s not forget England won the last T20 World Cup in 2010 and is the top-ranked test team.

Despite the removal of baseball and softball creating vacancies for new events, golf and rugby sevens were the most likely candidates to replace them. When London was bidding for the games in 2005, T20 was only two years old and few could have predicted how quickly it would take off.

Rugby sevens will make its debut at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – it’s unlikely we’ll see bails flying along the Copacabana.

I’ll just have to start a campaign for Twenty20 in 2020…

PHOTO/BILL TYNE